Over the last 2 years, my attitudes towards nakedness and nudity have undergone some fundamental changes. When I speak of nakedness, I am primarily talking about the the emotional and soul state of nakedness, that of hiding nothing from someone, of being fully vulnerable. I think nakedness has deep meanings, so I’ll also use the word nude to talk more about the state of being physically nude (unclothed).
A couple of years ago you couldn’t have told me I would find myself sitting in a small wooden shack, thigh-to-thigh with 10 sweaty nude men who I had met the day before, in 100 degree heat (Celsius, mind you); each of us running bare-bum to the frozen lake and jumping into the hole we had cut. And I wouldn’t have believed you if you said I’d be loving every minute of it. But that’s exactly where I found myself last New Year’s Eve, getting cultured up in the Finnish sauna experience. Sauna was invented in Finland, and “sauna” is happens to be the only Finnish word imported into the English language. Most people have a sauna in their homes, and use it almost daily. Since moving to Finland in 2007, both my wife and I have been more nude than ever before in our lives, including our honeymoon (which featured heavily in nudity). This is more true for me than it is for me, she recalls bathing with her family and other periods of nudity as a girl, but I don’t personally have any recollection of being nude as a child, except for a few instances that I shall explain shortly. But I’m a bit European now. I wear mid-thigh speedos, and am completely comfortable being nude with members of the same sex. Going to the sauna is one of my favourite parts of the week, we do it at least weekly, those of you who’ve visited us will understand. I find being nude completely relaxing, freeing, and therapeutic.
Being naked, is somewhat of a different matter. Nudity only requires the removal of clothes, but nakedness requires the removal of much more: our personal shields, our walls of solitude, the barriers we put up to keep others at a safe distance. Surely all of who you who are married have been nude with your spouse, but how often are you genuinely naked with each other? How often do you deeply, humanly connect with the essence of who your spouse is? And beyond marriage, how often do we as people deeply, humanly connect with each other? As friends, couples, even family, how often do we let ourselves be truly vulnerable with each other? Last summer I read a book titled “Becoming a True Spiritual Community” by Larry Crabb, and it broke my heart for what our relationships could and should become (the book is focussed on the context of relationships, which make up the body of Christ). Imagine a time/place where our relationships are so honest, so raw and beautiful, so infused with Christ, that we literally pour living water into one another. Not by virtue of TRYING, but by living securely in Daddy’s love, abounding with the grace of his Son, and communing deeply with one another as friends. Just as the three members of The Trinity commune deeply with each other. What a vision.
Anyway, last summer God took us on through this revelation of relationship, as you can see in the pages of this blog. He’s lead us (my wife and son) out of all forms of organized religion and into a dynamic, breathing form of Christianity that we are constantly being challenged by, that my wife and I often disagree, pray, talk, and re-agree on, and are enjoying deeply. We have the gospel freedom to attend what others would call “church” and we do so periodically. We have a few extended families here (and other friends abroad) who are on the exact same page, and when we spend time together it is so life-giving that we dread the leaving. For those who fear that by leaving “the church” we are forsaking the fellowship of believes, that couldn’t be further from the truth! One thing that we are asking God for more of, is people who are like-minded with us in this regard. That is part of what I am writing about here.
In January our first child was born. Raising a child has the tendency to take you on a journey back through your own childhood… as any parent can attest to. Assumedly, your own upbringing was different to your spouses, so you run into all sorts of odd foibles and things that you never realized mattered to you. One topic that Maija and I were talking about recently was nudity in the family. I realised that I had no early experience of male or female nudity that I could recall, nothing in my family interactions or otherwise. Conversation with my Dad has confirmed that my parents were never naked with us, including not bathing with us (me and my 2 brothers). The only memories I have of experiencing nudity as a child, come from “playing doctor” with friends when we were 5-6 years old. Upon being found out and reprimanded, I was embarrassed and ashamed. I know my parents had no intention of shaming me, but having had no safe nudity in their own lives growing up, they had provided me with few sanctioned outlets for my childhood curiosity. I felt shame over my behaviour, which quickly carried over into shame over our bodies. When I went through puberty, I was naturally inquisitive, but still lacking any healthy experience with nudity of either gender, I turned to the internet to teach me about our bodies, where I quickly fell into an addiction to pornography (that lasted 10 years).
As Maija and I spoke about how we hoped to raise our boy (and future children), we both felt that exposure to healthy nudity in a safe context was important. I’ve spoken with my Dad about my upbringing and his, and he confirmed that he and my mother were not comfortable enough with their own nudity to share it with us, even when we were very young. How convenient though that we live in Finland, where families routinely, and friends occasionally go to sauna together. Public co-ed sauna facilities for adults are not uncommon, though not as widespread as some might assume; these are more commonly found in spa and hotel complexes. Sauna is part of the bathing ritual here, and it is not sexual in the least; I didn’t fully grasp this until we moved here and made it a regular part of our lives. Mixed gender, non-sexual nudity is really a non-issue in most of Europe, but to my New Zealand and North American cultural sensibilities, being naked with members of the opposite sex has been a bit taboo. Beyond the cultural acceptance issue, I couldn’t get around the fact that for me at least, the female form was completely sexualized. Which shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Literally the only females I have seen nude, other than my wife, are from pornography, and if it wasn’t for the porn it would have been the entire culture of sexualized youth-worship that is inflicted upon us all, from the youngest age. From billboards and advertising, from music videos to fashion magazines, to television and film and everything else in between, Western society is saturated with the sexualization of our bodies.
But we’ve been fed lies.
We’re living in the most clothed period of time history has ever seen, but are we any more modest? Are we any more moral? Are family values any more protected? Are the orphan, the widow, and the aged any better off? We reject nudity and say it’s immodest, but clothe our infant daughters in infant bikinis to hide what? We require women to wear shape-accentuating, body enhancing clothing that leave strategic parts to the imagination. As if our imaginations were so modest. Our society rejects those body types that don’t fit the mold sold by Parasuco and others, ignoring the fact that barely any of our population posses these “ideal” bodies. We reject the aged and infirm; heaven forbid our parents get sick and we have to take care of them some day. We’re even suspicious of our doctors seeing us naked; heaven forbid our wives develop breast cancer and have to expose their breasts for medical testing. We’re repulsed by the thought of anyone older than 35 in the nude, regardless of the fact that the median age of the developed world is 39. How unhealthy is our image of aging? How unhealthy is our image of the human body, of our own bodies?
But let’s turn back the clock. The Prophets of the Old Testament were identified by their nudity, and we know about King David being “even more undignified than this.” Athletes in ancient Greece and Sparta competed in the nude. The disciple Peter fished in the nude, and Christ was crucified in the nude (it wasn’t until 500 AD that his loins were covered in artistic renditions). Up until the 700s all baptisms were performed fully nude with mixed attendance, and up until the 1800s the majority of all swimming done by anyone in the world would have been nude. Up until the 1960’s even, swimming at the YMCA was always nude. Have you ever wondered how the Jews of Abraham’s day were so easily identified by their circumcision?
We have developed, thanks in large part to the Puritans and then Queen Victoria’s exporting of Puritan values to the Western world, a complete aversion to nudity in any social context. Nudity has become fully equated with sexuality, and many grow up, myself included, not appreciating the difference. But this is complete bollocks! Tribes still exist today who live in complete nudity, due to their climate. If you take your kids to the zoo, how do you describe why we are the only creatures on the planet wearing artificial clothing? We’re born nude, we bath nude, and anyone who has kids knows that children have absolutely no inhibitions about running around in the buff. If you believe in evolution you’ll appreciate that clothes didn’t attach onto us (and haven’t attached onto anything else). If you believe in Creation you’ll know that God created Adam and Eve nude (and their relationship with God was truly naked, and face to face), up until the serpent led them down a path of shame. The fact remains that our skin is waterproof, it’s flexible and elastic, and it responds over time to harshness, developing callouses as needed to protect the body. It’s covered in nerves that detect temperature change, allowing the body to regulate it’s own temperature. Being clothed is an unnatural state for our bodies.
I would like to suggest that we reject the lie that all nudity is sexual, and embrace the principle of good nudity in any safe context. I am not advocating that we become nudists; I am advocating an attitude shift in our hearts and minds towards the human body.
I would like to suggest also, that we reject the lie that we cannot be honest with people, that we must always hide our feelings and intentions, that we will be judged and ridiculed when our true personalities are made known, that we are alone. I want to humanly connect, to be vulnerable, to bring life, and to give and receive healing through my relationships, and I believe this cannot happen without nakedness of soul and spirit.
As my children grow up, I want them to be free from the shame I grew up with. I want their curiosity to have a safe outlet. I want their dreams and desires to be made known. I want them to know spiritual life, I want them to believe in the God of their parents not because we have told them to, but because they have seen, and tasted, and heard. I want my children to be comfortable in their own skin, and to value and respect the bodies and lives of others. I want my children to understand that their bodies change, and keep changing, and that these changes are good and not to be feared or demonized. I want my family to commune with one another, to bring life and healing and restoration to one another.
And I want to live righteously. I want to appreciate and respect the human form, as God’s finest creation. I want to live a life free from lust and temptation. I want to live a life that perpetuates the truth about our humanity, about out bodies and about our emotions, about our need for one another.
My wife and I wish to pursue nakedness of spirit in our relationships with others. We wish to be rich in our relationships, to be overwhelmed by the love and communion we share with our family and friends.
And we are coming to believe that by sharing nakedness of body in our relationships with others, we may find our friendships enriched, our children raised healthily and our families strengthened, our perspectives on the body and on aging kept wholesome, and the powers of negative self-image, the powers of lust and pornography, and the power of shame, all be greatly diminished.